(OCA) - Faithful arrived early at the Cathedral of the Ascension here on Sunday, January 8, 2012, as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah presided at the Divine Liturgy and celebrated the Great Blessing of Water marking the diocese’s 40th anniversary.
Concelebrating with Metropolitan Jonah were Bishop Alejo of Mexico; diocesan clergy from as far as Monterrey and Guadalajara; priests from the US who offer assistance to the diocese, including Archpriest Ernesto Rios of Port St. Lucie, FL and Priest Antonio Perdomo of McAllen, TX; a priest of the Patriarchate of Moscow; and Protodeacon Joseph Matusiak. Services were celebrated almost exclusively in the Spanish language.
Metropolitan Jonah is visiting some of the diocesan missions through Thursday, January 12, offering an opportunity to strengthen their ties with the Church and plant seeds for ongoing missionary efforts.
The origin of what today is the Diocese of Mexico of the Orthodox Church in America were planted in the early 20th century, curiously through the Mexican National Catholic Church, distinct from the nation’s Roman Catholic Church. It was during the Revolution that antagonisms against the Roman Catholic Church were aroused by its historic association with the Spanish colonialists. Some of the first laws of the new Mexican Republic were antireligious. In 1917, all Church properties were nationalized, many churches were closed, monasteries were abolished and the communities dispersed, and clergymen were required to obtain licenses to function. Several attempts were made to establish a “national church.” In 1926, a Roman Catholic priest, with government support, was made head of the Independent Old Catholic Church of North America, and the Mexican National Catholic Church was founded.
The community thrived under the patronage of the government and at once extended its jurisdiction to Mexican communities in Texas. The National Church continued as an Old Catholic community until Father José Cortes y Olmos was appointed its bishop in 1961. He and his clergy became gradually convinced, through study and reflection, that the Old Catholic ecclesiological principles did not conform to the criteria of the One, True, Catholic Church. They came to identify with Orthodox Holy Tradition, and adopted the designation “Orthodox,” adopting the name “Iglesia Ortodoxa Catolica en Mexicao” (Orthodox Church in Mexico).
In 1965, Bishop José and his clergy contacted the then-rector of Saint Seraphim Church in Dallas, TX, Father Dmitri Royster, who had been instrumental in converting many Mexicans to Orthodoxy and was translating Orthodox liturgical services into Spanish. After Father Dimitri’s consecration to the episcopacy in 1969 and the granting of autocephaly the following year, Bishop Dmitri presented the case of the Orthodox Church in Mexico to the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in America. After a number of exchanges and visits, the Holy Synod sent Bishop Dmitri to visit Mexico officially and to report on his findings. This report was studied by the OCA’s Department of Canonical Affairs, which recommended acceptance of the Mexican communities into the Orthodox Church.
In 1971, Bishop José petitioned for the acceptance of his community into the Orthodox Church in America. He and other priests of his community were received in their Roman Catholic rank of priest, while an estimated ten to twenty thousand faithful were also received into the Orthodox Christian faith. Father José studied at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary prior to his consecration as Bishop of Mexico City, which took place at Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in New York City on April 22, 1972. Despite countless obstacles, what had become the Exarchate of Mexico continued to grow through the establishment of additional missions and conversions.
On January 28, 1983, Bishop José fell asleep in the Lord after a relatively short bout with cancer. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, presided at the funeral service in Mexico City on February 1, 1983.
Archbishop Dmitri continued to oversee the life of the Exarchate until 2005, when a successor to Bishop José was found. On May 28 of that year, in services celebrated at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA, Archimandrite Alejo (Pacheco-Vera) was consecrated as an auxiliary to Bishop Dmitri. On October 16, 2008, he was elected as the ruling bishop of the Exarchate. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, presided at his installation at Mexico City’s Ascension Cathedral on January 18, 2009. The Exarchate subsequently was granted full diocesan status.
A photo gallery of Sunday’s celebration may be found here, and an archival photo gallery may be found here.
Visit the diocese’s web site at http://ocamexico.org.
Additional background information on the Diocese of Mexico may be found here and here.